Santa Claus was easy. But Jesus Christ, Son of God? Now, that’s going to take some work.

It was about three years ago when my son started floating questions my way in earnest about ol’ Kris Kringle. His questions were leading, though. It was as if he already knew the answer about where the gifts actually came from, and my husband and I were merely confirming it for him. I was fine telling my then toddler son that Santa Claus was just a fun, charming story. And putting the focus of family, kindness and love around Christmas came naturally for me, for us. However, with Easter on its way and my son soon turning 6, my old anxieties around religion—that is to say, how I feel about what’s real and what’s story—are starting to bubble up.

You see, while my husband is a longtime agnostic, I am a believer, but no longer a churchgoer. Although I pray or, moreover, talk to God in my own way, I’ve purposely stepped away from organized religion and have a lot of issues with The Church — issues that make me uncomfortable even referring to myself as a Christian anymore. It doesn’t feel truthful, and doesn’t line up with my worldview. I’ve even started to bristle at trotting out the spiritual but not religious line; it feels overused and a little wishy-washy. But I do want to be the one to talk to my son about God before things get complicated. And I’m trying to reconcile how I feel about God and religion—or at least begin the process—so that I can honestly venture into the potentially layered conversation with my son.

I don’t want these holidays for us to be purely secular, spilling over with sweets, treats, gifts, and trinkets. (Step off, Easter Bunny.) Instead, I want them to be steeped in something more meaningful to our family. Does this mean incorporating religious practices, prayer or worship? Maybe? No? I don’t know. And this is where the apprehension sets in: I believe there are definite lessons to be learned about faith, forgiveness, and compassion from the story of Jesus. But how do I invoke God into our traditions around holidays like Easter without being disingenuous or resting on a pretense that I subscribe to some of the more “magical-thinking” aspects of Bible stories?

I guess it starts with faith…in myself as a parent who can indeed raise a moral child without needing to quote Bible verses. I do believe that there’s a larger force, a greater being that exists beyond our known world, but I don’t want to pour my ideas over this child. He can look to science for cold, hard facts about the tactile world, and that doesn’t preclude him from incorporating ethics like The Golden Rule (a.k.a. Just Don’t Be a Jerk) into the way he moves through that same world.

It’s about holding fast to a belief that I can influence and help shape his young mind by letting my life be the lesson. How do I treat people I care about—and maybe more important, the ones that I’m not too fond of? Am I striving for happiness in my life? Do I put love first? Does my word mean something? Have I allowed passion and integrity to guide me instead of guilt and shame? These are the kinds of things that I think about, when I think about God. They aren’t linked to any Bible stories about sacrificial lambs. It’s not me trying to untangle the doctrine of the Trinity in language that a 6-year-old can understand (or a 60-year-old, mind you, because, listen, consubstantiality is one hard nut to crack). And it’s definitely not throwing the convenient blanket of “For the Bible tells me so” over anything that might be difficult to unpack or explain.

Maybe the way to smooth out the rough edges around how I feel about God and religion is to not mark that as the goal. Instead of trying to make it all make sense for my kid—and me—perhaps I need to leave it open-ended, create plenty of space for us to figure it out on our own time and in our own way. And if that means gray areas, question marks, differences of opinions and doubts, so be it.

Nicole Blades is an author and freelance journalist who writes about motherhood and race, identity, culture, and technology. Her second novel, The Thunder Beneath Us (Kensington), will be published next year. Follow her on Twitter @NicoleBlades.

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